Migrant Voices in London is a participatory research project that seeks to better understand how migrants experience London, with particular focus on the borders they encounter and the impact of legal status and gender on their experiences of daily life. It does so by creating a space for speaking about and showing their experiences through collaborative workshops and film/photography projects.
The projects, as of yet, ran from June-August 2018 and consisted of a series of workshops and events that were open to all. The process has culminated into a film, Migrant Voices in London, which was launched on 18th April 2019 at The Migration Museum. Click here to watch the film.
Migrant Voices seeks to be a participatory and inclusive project, with workshops that are run not only with but also by migrants. We welcome collaborations with London-based organisations and individuals supporting migrants of all kinds.
The first Experiences of London Life workshop took place on Thursday 12 July, 2:30-4:30 at the Migration Museum. This event was all about sharing: with free food and music, with everyone invited to share their experiences of being a migrant in the city.
The second workshop will took place on Friday 3 August, 3:00-5:00pm at King’s College London. We were lucky to welcome Anna Virabyan for an afternoon of ‘art expression’, who guided us through the steps and techniques of creatively and freely expressing yourself on paper, in your own way.
The third workshop, Migration Through Theatre, will took place place at the Migration Museum on Thursday 16 August, 2-5pm. This workshop brought people together to find interesting and innovative ways of sharing their stories through theatre.
On Thursday 16 August, the Migration through Theatre Workshop took place at the Migration Museum. This third workshop for the Migrant Voices in London project was led by Twyla, Laura, and Harry, and explored the various migrant experiences of London through the medium of theatre. To summarise this event, we have perspectives from both the theatre practitioner: Twyla (King’s College London), and a participant to this workshop and a member of our MRG, Nadirah (Brunel University London).
T: Our workshop was a great success. It was a wonderful opportunity to share stories and explore creative techniques. We used a range of theatrical methods to inspire artistic interpretations of each other’s stories.
Initially, we explored the idea of status by creating group images with the participants. It was interesting to see the various interpretations of how people perceive status. We then used this idea to develop a series of movement progressions, similar to the work produced by the Frantic Assembly. It brought partners together and developed five simple actions which turned into a more fluid duet transaction. We later used this movement for our performative section.
N: I observed the Theatre Workshop as a wonderful and abstract way to portray migrant experiences. The workshop started off with warm-up exercises, for example, getting to know each other’s names. This was followed with a speed game consisting of numbers and gestures in partners in order to get our brains functioning, and in tune with multitasking. It was really interesting to see how everyone’s brains could handle multiple things at once with some practice. The third activity was an exercise of dramatic freeze frames purposeful to portray power and hierarchy between subjects. I thought this was a creative way to represent the struggles people may face as migrants’ due to social hierarchies.
Another activity consisted of forming groups of two, portraying the ‘borders’ that migrants and refugees face on their journey, for example partner 1 may tap partner 2’s shoulder, and partner 2 would need to react in a negative way reflecting a social barrier. This acted as a microcosm of the emotions that migrants/refugees may face due to the barriers (both physical, social, cultural and emotional) in society.
T: Next, Harry led the following section by focussing on the idea of shoes and how they can be the key to discovering where people have been and what they have seen. We shared these stories again in twos, only this time, it was our partner who told our life story rather than ourselves. They were sixty second snapshots, focussing on the most memorable moments of our life. Pretending to be someone else and reliving their life instead your own was a good way of overcoming the anxiety that can come from re-telling your own life story.
N: During this activity, everyone got into a different set of partners and partner 1 took off their shoes, in order to describe the shoes’ story as if it were their actual lifestyle. This was particularly interesting because it enabled us to hear other people’s journeys of how they came to London, where they have been and what struggles they may have faced.
T: Our final section led by Laura made us think about London personified. We focussed on all its characteristics as a place, all of the magnificent opportunities it has to offer, and all of the disadvantages it has to living within it. We then all came up with one question to ask London. They ranged from “Why are you so expensive?” to “Why won’t you let them in?” to “What will happen next?” We added these questions to our performative piece as a soundscape to our movement section.
N: There was a mediation exercise. This involved imagining yourself out of your own body, floating up until London looked minuscule, and asking a question to London as if it were a person. This illustrated the qualities that everyone thought London had, into one form and the raw emotions/traits behind London. It helped to clearly display everyone’s different opinions of London.
The ‘Conveyor Belt’ exercise involved 5 stages:
- Here the person on the stage said out loud, “tell me more.”
- This stage had the second person to tell the story of someone’s ‘shoes’ (i.e. their life journey), which allowed us to learn about not only one person’s story, but of the whole group.
- This stage was a question for London and I thought that it really expressed sensitive issues or concerns that people may have with London.
- We then put on their shoes
- At this stage, we described what a “home” is, and any opinion was welcomed.
As the workshop neared to an end, everyone split into two large groups, with one performing their freeze frame actions in partners, reflecting social barriers and conflict. The second group on the other side of the room shouted out their questions to London, expressing different frustrations and other emotions towards London. I believed that this activity really married together all of the other tasks from the workshop.
T: Ultimately, the workshop shared ideas, perspectives and interpretations of London and everyone’s experiences of living there. It was a great opportunity to see that despite the different views and experiences of London, each of us has a story. We concluded that although we all have a different and unique story of London, but whether one is a migrant, refugee, or citizen – we are all united by having a story to tell. The workshop highlighted different ways in which we can creatively share these stories and ultimately find interactive and emotive methods to engage with each other and our audiences.
N: It was interesting to participate as well as observe the workshop as it allowed for a well-rounded understanding of everyone’s journeys, whether it be in this country or from any other part of the world. The use of drama and theatrical techniques enabled migrant experiences to be conveyed in a creative and qualitative method that allows for a deeper understanding of the emotions and difficulties individuals face.
From the KCL Migration Research Group, a massive thank you to Twyla, Laura, and Harry for leading this wonderful workshop, and to Nadirah, for taking part and contributing her thoughts about the workshop.
Migrant Voices in London: Art Expression with Anna Workshop
Our second workshop for the Migrant Voices in London project, “Art Expression with Anna”, took place on Friday 3 August at King’s College London. The session was led by Anna, who is an artist currently awaiting her asylum decision in the UK. The event was sold out, and we were joined by various creative members of the community including artists, students, researchers, a poet, and a chef.
After a short introduction to our project by Leonie Ansems de Vries, Anna led the rest of the workshop.
Anna talked about her life spent “always waiting, not knowing when the answer (on her asylum decision) will come”. Since 2002, people seeking asylum in the UK have been denied the right to work. For Anna, this means that she is unable to sell her brilliant artworks, and all workshops are run voluntarily
She says that art is significant in facing the uncertainty she feels on a daily basis, both not to know when and what the outcome of her application will be. Drawing on the parallels of her artistic practice – of letting her hand move with charcoal, uncertain where it will lead, unplanned what shapes will appear – and her life, she encouraged us to just “let go” and see what appears on paper.
As each of us started to draw (Task 1: Drawing a face upside-down), we were initially slightly conscious of what our work looked like to others. But in a few minutes the room was quiet with all immersed in their own relation – between the self, the charcoal and the paper.
Anna walked around the room to give us suggestions, indicating where we were holding back in our expression, in order to have our art “look nice” or conventions around what we thought “how a face is supposed to look like”.
At this stage, there was also a break in the silence, and people opened up and started unprompted discussions around the room. Anything from what had brought us to the workshop that day, our other creative processes and how we are inspired to create, or our childhoods, life in London, and immigration statuses also made their way into the conversations.
Anna says about the workshop: “It gave me confidence to be able to lead a workshop with this group”, and that this was “…the first time I didn’t feel a border between myself and the others, regarding my status as an asylum seeker.” She said that meeting other asylum seekers at this workshop, as well as people with various legal statuses – those on a student visa, those who have British passports, those who are here for work, etc. – all here to take part in her workshop, gave her a sense of belonging in the space we all had created together.
We (the KCL Migration Research Group organisers) exercised our privilege in being a funded project with “room booking ability” and “flyer making capacity” to plan, supply, and get the word out about this art workshop. However, beyond that, this space – where there was a sense of belonging no matter the legal status (and we hope, in other intersections of identity) – was created by the openness of all those who attended.
Thank you to Anna for your wonderfully led art workshop, all the kind and talented participants who attended, and to the KCL Migration Research Group!
Migrant Voices in London: Experiences of London Life Workshop
On 12 June 2018, the first Migrant Voices in London workshop took place at the Migration Museum. The “Experiences of London Life Workshop” focused on the theme of sharing: migration stories, daily experiences, and heartwarming dishes from the Delica Sisters (formerly the Chickpea Sisters).
As part of a broader project that creates a platform for migrants to narrate and show their experiences, the sessions were about how our lives are experienced – and expressing them through narratives and objects.
The first session: Stories of Self, run by Arkam and Emmanuel from Let Us Learn was about narrating our experiences with a structure – challenge, choice, and outcome. Many of the stories discussed in small groups, which fit the narrative structure, were also stories of migration.
The second session: (Dis)Comfort of Things, run by Nadirah, was about how objects bring us comfort or discomfort in our daily lives. Things included a family recipe, a bicycle air pump, an Oyster card – each with their own story – such as helping us navigate our way around and to maintain our sense of self in London.
We finished off the workshop with conversations about how the EU Referendum has impacted how we experience and think about belonging and borders.
We hope to continue discussing these topics and more in our upcoming workshops. Up next is this Friday: Art Expression with Anna. There will be a theatre workshop on the 17th of August at the Migration Museum. To keep up to date with our events, follow us on Facebook.
Finally, many thanks to
- our wonderful attendees and your generosity in sharing your experiences
- the staff and volunteers of the Migration Museum for kindly hosting us
- the DelicaSisters for providing us with delightful dishes
- the amazing KCL Migration Research Team for planning and facilitating the workshop!
If you have questions, or would like to collaborate with us – please don’t hesitate to email us at email@example.com
Watch this space for announcements of other workshops and events
Migrant Voices is run by Leonie Ansems de Vries and Koto Akiyoshi
Follow us on twitter on: @MRG_KCL
Like us on fb on: @kclmrg and @kclmigrantvoices